Just how do you pronounce bokeh anyway?


Phill Schiller putting the focus on bokeh.
Photo: Apple/YouTube

Thanks to Apple, virtually everyone with an iPhone understands the Japanese word and photo term known as bokeh.

Thanks to Apple, virtually everyone mispronounces the word.

That is an annoyance to Allen Murabayashi, co-founder of Photoshelter, who took to the website’s blog Wednesday in an attempt to correct the way Apple pronounces it.

It is pronounced Bo-kay, like the grouping of flowers a bride holds. It is not Bo-cuh.

“The mispronunciation is exacerbated by people like Apple’s Phil Schiller who repeatedly mispronounced the word during the launch of the iPhone XS,” Murabayashi wrote in a post that he headlined as a public service announcement. “Unlike a 4-syllable word like ‘karaoke’ (butchered as ‘carey-okee’), bokeh is not hard to pronounce at all. There is, in fact, no ‘uh’ sound in Japanese.

“Let’s not perpetuate a mispronunciation through ignorance.”

Bringing bokeh into focus

The blurred background has appealing bokeh.
Photo: Apple

Since the introduction of Portrait Mode with the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus, users have come to understand and appreciate the out-of-focus parts of a picture and how it can make the subject in focus pop.

Bokeh does not mean out of focus. It refers to the quality of the blurred parts of a photograph shot with a shallow depth of field. The blur, a particularly attractive aesthetic in portrait photography, is produced by a combination of aperture and lens aberrations.

The word was front and center on the stage of the Steve Jobs Theatre Wednesday, as Schiller, talked about the camera capabilities of the iPhones XS, XS Max and XR, which will be the first handset with a single camera with portrait mode.

Smartphones aren’t able to create true bokeh, but developers have figured out a computational workaround that allows mobile photographers to apply a bokeh-like effect.

But how Apple achieves bokeh, which Murabayashi explains is more of a mask, is a different discussion, one he can’t continue without first educating people on how to say it.

“Nikon might have multiple accepted pronunciations, but there’s only one way to pronounce bokeh,” he said.

Murabayashi is not alone. Ted Forbes, a photographer, educator, and host of the YouTube show The Art of Photography, was equally puzzled by Schiller’s pronunciation. His frustration with how the word gets said is an introduction to a very informative video (see below) of his impressions on the new line of iPhones.

We may have to wait until the next iPhone launch to see if Apple gets the message.


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